The British public will be hoping for a bigger and better Christmas than ever to make up for last year’s washout. Have the ad makers risen to the challenge?
Emma de la Fosse: chief creative officer, Digitas UK
Jemima Bird: CEO and founder, Hello Finch
Josh Bullmore: CSO, Leo Burnett London
Neil Godber: executive strategy director, Wunderman Thompson
Nicola Wardell: MD of Specsavers in-house agency
Rob Metcalfe: chairman, Richmond & Towers
Total score: 20
Kevin the Carrot shows new character Ebanana Scrooge the error of his ways, with a cameo from Marcus Rashford as a radish.
Jemima: Aldi have smashed it with topical jokes (‘Marcus Radishford’) wrapped around a bullseye ‘be kind’ message. The play on A Christmas Carol is lovely and the visuals and action land smack bang in the right kind of wacky (Selfridges take note). 5/5
Josh: This shows that once you’ve established a long-term populist platform like Kevin the Carrot, you can effortlessly play anywhere and everywhere. Co-opting the most famous of Christmas tales? Not a problem. Flexing into spreading seasonal cheer with Marcus Radishford? Let’s do it. 5/5
Neil: Aldi have sensibly stuck with their highly successful formula, using Kevin the Carrot in a pun-laden Christmas tale. Defining Christmas in terms of kindness and thoughtfulness is highly topical this year, but well done to Aldi, which has also partnered with Rashford to donate 1.8 million meals to families in need. 4/5
Nicola: Good to see Aldi evolving the well-loved Kevin the Carrot character and bringing in some new friends. Ebanana Scrooge is a touch of genius. Made me chuckle straight away and is guaranteed to get the tills ringing with soft toy sales. And Marcus Radishford? A master stroke. Single-minded and so on point. I also thought the food looked really appetising, remembering that for all the lovely storytelling, this is an ad that is selling really well. 4/5
Rob: This is a very odd mix of Aldi’s usual festive silliness – complete with lame puns – and some serious hunger-alleviating purpose. Even the presence of the wonderfully named ‘Marcus Radishford’ can’t quite make it work. 2/5
Total score: 23
A young woman receives a surprise gift from a concerned and thoughtful older neighbour, in a reversal of a more familiar narrative, with a soundtrack from singer Adele.
Jemima: I sighed when I got that this is the ‘argh, such horror having to be out in busy places again, please let me be at home in my own space’ shtick. Sure enough, one minute in and we’re at young person anxiety. But because this is, and will be, a huge issue, I like the way Amazon tackle it. 4/5
Josh: This year, not so many brands have gone for the touching individual tale that strives for universal appeal. Amazon does that here with aplomb. Whatever you think about the business, you can’t deny its ability to make it easy to be thoughtful, and that’s skilfully illustrated here. 4/5
Neil: In contrast to the majority of ads, which opt to check off every buyer and occasion to demonstrate their range, Amazon has taken a single powerful storyline and made something relevant, touching and distinctive. The work is highly engaging, drawing in the viewer by picking up on the issue of anxiety and isolation in younger people, along with subtle nods to Christmas (and even Home Alone) before sensitively weaving in Amazon as a way to offer kindness. 5/5
Nicola: This one got me, and it wasn’t just Adele’s wonderfully soulful voice. Such a contrast to all the other ads I’ve seen. It feels real, raw and sensitive to the reality of today. Well done Amazon for making this all about supporting each other, while naturally featuring a gift from Amazon. 5/5
Rob: Credit to Amazon for, at last, making its Christmas ad in Britain – and what a difference a bit of cultural resonance makes. With everyone else pretty much ignoring the pandemic in their ads, this looks current and engaging, with cleverly structured appeal across age groups. Amazon may be trouncing Britain’s bricks and mortar retailers at the tills, and now it’s beating them on the Christmas ad front too. 5/5
Total score: 18
Festive celebrations go big in a string of clips noting the nation’s desire to say “baubles to last year”, all framed with white borders, like gifts in the catalogue.
Jemima: Argos has nicely judged and juxtaposed the possibilities (lockdown or no?) for Christmas 2021. Cute and enterprising kids will find a way. Better yet, the execution is an all-action style that nods to the social media staples of the moment. 5/5
Josh: Last Christmas Tesco played a blinder by being one of the few brands to tackle the Covid context head on. This year Argos is doing the same to good effect. 4/5
Neil: While it works to place Argos at the heart of a Christmas that’s definitely on, I wish there was more of the brand on show. 3/5
Nicola: The Argos catalogue lives! It’s the one thing every child wants to flick through at Christmas and here it is brought to life in a fun way. The products look great, the casting is spot on and the positivity is infectious. 4/5
Rob: From the ‘chuck in the kitchen sink’ school of advertising. It’s all over the place stylistically, and the result is just a bit weird. 2/5
Total score: 16
A supermarket transforms into an ice rink from which a family skates through Christmas scenes.
Jemima: I question the premise but admire the ambition. It’s a bit of a departure for Asda, but the sweeping motion and arresting visuals — plus a chuckle-worthy callback to butt-photocopying at office Christmas parties — ensure this ad lands pretty much in the right place. 3/5
Josh: I love the Asda brand’s unashamedly populist appeal. This is the latest in a new campaign offering visual metaphors for that ‘Asda price feeling’. If you don’t know that strategy, you might wonder why all the Torvill and Dean vibes. 3/5
Neil: This does a great job of making Christmas feel spectacular, taking us on a tour through all the moments set to Bolero, complete with wobbly ice-skating. 4/5
Nicola: Asda on ice feels very festive and at the beginning it really grabbed my attention. There was so much charm in that opening scene, but it just didn’t sustain. 3/5
Rob: ‘Give the Asda price feeling this Christmas’ is the inelegant and meaningless strapline to this peculiar Xmas-on-ice ad. A bit more creative rigour could have made this good. 3/5
Total score: 16
Actress Jenna Coleman receives a handbag from her nan containing an inexhaustible supply of gifts.
Jemima: This ad reminds me of a Boots advantage card. Just when you think you’ve had the last reward on offer, they ping you another one. It’s not quite what you want but you take it anyway. Ends on the ‘we weren’t together last year but we’re all together this year’ routine. Meh. 3/5
Josh: I love the Mary Poppins-esque bag producing the right gift for any moment. It’s a charming way to illustrate that Boots has it all covered. But will the boundless generosity of the bag make for an uncomfortable contrast with many people’s budgets this Christmas? 3/5
Neil: Boots has created bold work, but I have two concerns. Boots may be outshined by the star, making it hard to see the brand. Also, the ad could be interpreted as making it look effortless to have a wonderful Christmas in a year that has been anything but. 3/5
Nicola: This left me feeling conflicted. The acting was brilliant, but excessive consumerism seems the wrong message. A bag that barfs out an endless barrage of waste is exactly what the world doesn’t need, especially after COP26. 2/5
Rob: Three minutes of heady unabashed consumerism and a tearjerker ending, Boots has nailed it. Presumably not the first place for most people’s Christmas shopping, this ad may well change perceptions. High production values, a couple of sight gags along the way and only a bit woke. What’s not to like? 5/5
Total score: 18
A boy’s initiative sees a block of flats get a cardboard box chimney from the roof to one of the windows, in what turns out to be an act of kindness.
Jemima: I guess it’s a play on ‘never mind the expensive gifts, just give the kid a cardboard box and they’ll be happy’ message… it’s a bit of an overcooked, schmaltzy ad. 3/5
Josh: Many a brand is playing to togetherness this year. Coke is the original togetherness brand, and with the help of a festive dose of magical realism, it stays ahead of the pack. 3/5
Neil: Togetherness has been a constant theme this season and Coca-Cola has brought this to life in charming fashion. It’s a long ad, but the story keeps you engaged. 5/5
Nicola: Here is the Christmas warmth and cheer we’ve come to count on from Coke. I love that it shows people using what they already have to create something special. 4/5
Rob: It’s a nice film, well executed, that has absolutely nothing to do with Coke. 3/5
Total score: 14
Boy meets girl meets ET.
Jemima: Let’s decode: last Christmas we could only ‘phone home’, but this year we can be at home? Maybe I’m trying too hard. JL should expect a call from Spielberg’s legal team. The original was better. 2/5
Josh: Here John Lewis cleverly clocks that in an uncertain world, we all need the reassuringly familiar. And this ad returns to the reassuringly familiar JL format of heartstring tugging festive fable set to a poignant cover song, rendered with beautiful craft. 4/5
Neil: John Lewis owns Christmas advertising. This year, they aim to inspire people to enjoy a Christmas as magical as their first through an alien’s first Christmas, but my concern is that it’s so difficult to own. Previously, they’ve borrowed just enough from popular culture, but this one feels a step too close to ET, Stranger Things, The Man Who Fell to Earth and more. 3/5
Nicola: Being the most anticipated Christmas ad, this one left me feeling a bit flat. The production values were beautiful and the story has charm, but it’s not as warm and fuzzy as previous iterations. 3/5
Rob: A beautifully made short film telling a very simple tale and a lovely addition to the canon of JL festive ads. So, when John Lewis goes bust, commentators may rightly ask why its advertising failed to save it. The answer is that this ad, like many of its predecessors, provides no reason to even consider shopping at JL in store, or even online. It is corporate onanism. 2/5
Total score: 16
A family Christmas scene recurs in the distant and more distant future as Lidl promises low prices always.
Jemima: As we breeze through Christmases yet to come, four things will never change: extended families are annoying, Christmas jumpers are silly, Lidl prices are low, and advertisers can use 25 December as cover to get away with creative that is thinner than a slice of laser-cut turkey. 2/5
Josh: I had to watch this twice to understand what was going on. It turns out it’s showing Lidl will always be there, offering low prices at Christmas. It does unlock a fresh take on the usual festive fare. But I’m not sure ‘always Lidl on price’ is well-known enough, despite the eye-poppingly garish Lidl jumpers of Christmas future. 3/5
Neil: The creative is fun and gives the brand a simple way to repeat the message, but if I’m honest, I’m less convinced promises for the future will move people to shop now. 3/5
Nicola: I love how Lidl has tapped into the reality that we do this every year, but with a wry wide-eyed twinkle, managing to elevate the everyday. It lands the point about consistently low prices in a really fun, novel and charming way. I’d love to see where they take this family. 4/5
Rob: In which Lidl pledges low prices forever, Tomorrow’s World style. The scenarios could have been wackier, but perhaps the mundanity of it all is part of the joke. Will it win any awards? No. Does it hammer home Lidl’s price proposition? Yes. 4/5
Marks & Spencer
Total score: 21
Comedian Dawn French is the voice of a Christmas Tree fairy along with Percy Pig, voiced by actor Tom Holland.
Jemima: We’ve had a carrot from Aldi, so here’s a talking Percy. It’s rather disturbing something we eat at Christmas is the ad’s main protagonist. The Dawn French fairy doesn’t turn Percy into a pig in blanket, does she? Still, it’s cute, and a departure from last year’s poorly executed pastiche of food porn. 4/5
Josh: The nation’s favourite sugar plum fairy Dawn French meets the nation’s favourite sugary pig Percy. M&S has been steadily building Percy’s presence in product lines across the store, so it’s perhaps no surprise he’s made the leap to being star of the ads. Who needs to borrow cute Christmas equity when you have it ready to jump off the shelf? The M&S Food Hall is a retail experience that can still create some festive excitement and, through Percy Pig’s eyes, it sparkles here. 5/5
Neil: M&S has taken a leaf out of Byron Sharp’s book to create a distinctive asset in Percy Pig. While the tone moves M&S away from the premium world of epic venerated food, it works well to draw the brand closer into the regular world of people at Christmas, complete with panto favourite Dawn French and some fun exchanges between the two stars. Aldi has made Christmas characters look easy, but establishing a new character in the hectic festive media schedule is tough. If I have one quibble, it’s that the character should have more resemblance to the Percy Pig we consume. 4/5
Nicola: Percy Pig comes to life – a really fun idea for M&S’s iconic sweets range! There’s star power, loads of charm and beautiful animation, but by splicing it with their well-known food treatments, I think the team sacrificed the potential of the idea. And as for the star power? They were a little underused, at least in this format. Perhaps we’ll see their characters come to life more in other channels. 4/5
Rob: As a device to feature some festive products, the Dawn French fairy and Tom Holland pig double act works well, although the script could be wittier and the food choices (two puddings and some mild – read dull – smoked salmon) more surprising and engaging. But it could be worse, and among this year’s crop of ads, that’s high praise. 4/5
Total score: 17
A girl grows out of her cuddly imaginary childhood friend. When she finds herself missing it as an adult, will it still be there?
Emma: There’s always one that makes me cry and this had me in floods. McDonald’s continues to explore the theme of Christmas re-awakening the child inside us. The trigger for all this is McDonald’s seasonal offering of carrot sticks (aka reindeer snacks – genius marketing in action). It plays on every heartstring like a master harpist, and I had to rapidly pull myself together as my next Zoom call loomed. This is a great Christmas gift from McDonald’s. 4/5
Jemima: I loved this. Maybe it’s the memories of Rik Mayall’s Drop Dead Fred; the sentimental moment of your imaginary friend being ‘put away’ or the tear-jerking moment when you remember them and they’re still there waiting for you. Not quite sure what it’s got to do with Christmas but Ronald has nailed it for me. 4/5
Neil: McDonald’s has created a tear-jerker exploring the loss of magic and wonder as we age, in a journey through time. The story is beautifully brought to life with convincing performances, pace and production values. It’s wonderfully emotional work, maintaining the mood as the brand is sensitively introduced as the cause of the now grown-up’s return to magic. If I have a reservation, it’s the tone. Yes, it works for Christmas, and I’m not about to argue for a sleigh load of distinctive assets, but I question whether the voice is distinctive to McDonald’s. 4/5
Nicola: For a second there I thought I was watching the John Lewis ad from 2017. It’s a really charming story and a nicely made film, but I’m a little bit at a loss about what the strategy was here. It just doesn’t feel very Maccy D’s to me. In fact, apart from the Reindeer Snacks (aka some veg), I’m not sure what the connection is to their brand or their business. 3/5
Rob: An ad in which a grown woman has hallucinations and McDonald’s seems to think that’s a good thing somehow. A weird excursion for an advertiser that usually knows what it is doing.2/5
Total score: 17
Father Christmas becomes ‘Farmer Christmas’ as Morrisons turns the focus on to the ‘magic helpers’ who bring us festive food.
Emma: In advertising the idea is king and Morrisons has got an absolute cracker: ‘Farmer Christmas’. We all know who puts the presents under the tree but why did we never stop to wonder who puts the Christmas fare in the fridge? Morrisons’ Farmer Christmas, (who has an air of Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas about him) has lorries for reindeer, a combine harvester for a sleigh and elves working behind the scenes in the stores. This film gives festive food the wonder and mystery of presents. Love it. 4/5
Jemima: Sure, why not? A nice zoom-in on one of Morrisons’ key brand tenets and a well-presented Christmas story arc, even if it hangs on a pun. They’ve clearly sunk some budget into scenery and special effects but it doesn’t feel overcooked. It’s simple and executed well, with just enough magic to satisfy.3/5
Neil: Morrisons celebrates the farmers who work year round to make the festive season possible. Morrisons has always been a brand close to the origins of its food, often featuring Market Street in advertising and its northern roots gives this worthy approach credibility. However, while characters and puns are making a welcome comeback, at times I found the metaphors, (lorries as reindeers) became so fantastical they lost their weight of meaning. 3/5
Nicola: Farmer Christmas is an interesting and novel idea, with his elves in the stores working hard to bring you that Xmas cheer underlining Morrisons’ key values. I like that it heroes those that really bring Christmas to our tables. The food looks nice and it’s a sweet tale, but it doesn’t have that wow factor. 3/5
Rob: Thank goodness for that – an idea! It demonstrates how derivative/similar/tedious so much Xmas advertising is when something even marginally different looks bold and fresh. This is well acted, mostly coherent, and I suspect much more in keeping with consumer sentiment than most of its competitors’ efforts. One mark docked for the absurdly overloaded festive table trope, though. 4/5
Total score: 16
Sainsbury’s takes us all through all the commotion of a big gathering for Christmas dinner, in freeze frame, with Etta James on vocals.
Emma: Sainsbury’s has picked up the ‘hiatus’ theme too, but they’ve used the ‘Matrix’ technique of having everyone frozen in time around a Christmas dinner table. It’s quite clever and shows the food off well. But unlike the Tesco cast, who are determined to have their Christmas no matter what, the Sainsbury’s crowd feel more passive, as though they are waiting to be released from their suspended animation. The result is that there isn’t much action to really engage so the dopamine hits are fewer and further between. 3/5
Jemima: Sold. From Etta James’ opening belt of ‘At last’, it’s a freeze-frame journey of the life-on-pause we’ve endured, complete with a fuzzy champagne moment that’s subtly priceless. It’s charmingly done, with sweeping camera work conveying hope and celebration as we tour funny frozen faces and cute children breaking the rules for a sneaky bite of Yorkshire. I’m there.5/5
Neil: This year, the tropes seem to shift between having a blow-out this Christmas, or returning to the real values of Christmas, in kindness, giving and thoughtfulness. When adopting the blow-out strategy, the tone tends to be akin to a festive fairground ride that carries you all the way to the big day. While Sainsbury’s has opted for the theme of ‘it’s been a long time coming, so let’s make it a Christmas to savour’, their creative treatment is more reminiscent of the stopping impact of Philips Carousel. It works very well to create anticipation and expectation, and also to remind us to stop and enjoy the moment. 4/5
Nicola: Lots of ads this year have had us at the table looking at the ham/turkey/stuffing. Doing it in slow motion not only doesn’t bring anything new to the table, it makes some of the food look revolting. Gelatinous gravy, anyone? I suspect the answer is no. 2/5
Rob: Why bother? Why produce an ultimately pointless generic ad that could have any retailer’s name stuck on it? However well crafted, nobody will remember this. Nobody will shop more at Sainsbury’s because of it. Save your money, Sainsbury’s, until someone at your agency has a flash of inspiration. 2/5
Total score: 15
Actress Jane Horrocks stars in a surreal, fast-moving, 1980s gameshow-esque run-through of all our friends and relations Selfridges has gifts for.
Jemima: I don’t know what they were smoking when they thought this up, but I definitely don’t want any. This kaleidoscope of pointlessness wouldn’t be so offensive but for the retro colouring and staging. And with my wack-o-meter maxed out, I’m still none the wiser on what to get my ex for Christmas. Who does that, anyway? 1/5
Josh: I found myself enjoying this silly and surreal seventies gameshow mash-up. Is the oh-so-knowing high kitsch enough to compensate for the cheap and cheerful feel? It’s a bold call, especially given Selfridges is currently for sale and needs to uphold its status as one of the last remaining prestige shopping destinations. I admire the chutzpah. 3/5
Neil: A wonderful ad aimed at solving the curse of finding interesting presents for everyone. The proposition is straightforward enough, and the knowing insight into the different people in your life combined with the kitsch shopping gameshow format cuts through the Christmas clutter. 5/5
Nicola: Stylistically, it’s cool and fun. But it didn’t feel right for Selfridges or for this moment. At a time when we’re trying to combat excess, it felt like this ad was promoting it. 3/5
Rob: A surprise return for Woolworths this year, with its classic celeb-fronted array of cheap tat. Oh, hang on, it’s Selfridges, so it will be expensive, not that you’d guess from the production values here. As a reminder that Selfridges exists, it works. As a showcase for anything that anyone might actually want to buy, its success is limited. 3/5
Total score: 22
Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ is the soundtrack as we see people determined to let nothing get in the way of Christmas.
Emma: After the last-minute cancellation of Christmas 2020, we are all raring to go, and Tesco has read the room perfectly. We demand joy, fun, good food and good cheer. Tesco delivers the lot, beautifully wrapped, courtesy of Santa getting through border control with his Covid pass – haha! 5/5
Jemima: My goodness, Tesco’s kitchen-sink tour of the times we’re in is manic and exhausting, but they somehow pull it off. Vaccine passports, food shortages, lockdowns, quarantines − they’ve weaved each thread through the Christmas clichés and it hangs together well. It also confirms Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ is some little earner, I swear it’s been in at least 14 ads since Covid. 4/5
Neil: Tesco has fully embraced its role as the nation’s grocer this festive season. The ad is fantastically well put together and, unlike some other brands, Tesco has overtly recognised the issues we’ve faced with Covid. The ad is all the better for this, giving Tesco the ability to acknowledge the variety of problems we’ve faced but cheerfully look to the bright side of life for Christmas.5/5
Nicola: After a year or two of making the best of what life has thrown at us, this is a nice insight into the nation’s mood: come what may, we will be making Christmas happen. It’s also a clever way of showcasing the range. Despite the brilliant track giving spades of pace and energy, the gags wore thin towards the end. But it will tolerate cutdowns well, affording the flexibility Tesco will need in the run-up to Christmas. 4/5
Rob: Others have tried the ‘nothing’s stopping us’ approach, but Tesco pulls it off with flair and humour. This is actually quite funny, bears repeat watching, and manages to make you feel good about Tesco. 4/5
Total score: 13
Actor Ashley Jensen tells us why “the best bit of Christmas is the food”, including Waitrose’s Heston Blumenthal mince pies, which she passes off as her own.
Emma: Where Morrisons shows us that Christmas food is wonderful, Waitrose just tells us. That’s the problem really. This ad feels like the brief voiced by Ashley Jensen. That magical thing called the creative leap, from brief to idea, hasn’t happened. Sometimes a great director’s treatment can rescue a film lacking a story, but this lacks any real personality. Heston Blumenthal, for example, is portrayed standing alone at a party looking bored. It’s all a bit flat. Like Heston’s champagne. 2/5
Jemima: Ashley Jensen makes anything she’s in better, and she plays the snarky auntie bit perfectly. The whole thing leans on her comedic talent and, luckily for Waitrose, she delivers. There’s jokes, there’s products, there’s a cameo or two and, like a Heston recipe, each ingredient plays to its strengths. I suspect this will be a bit Marmite but I like it. 3/5
Neil: Food and dining have always been the glue that hold Christmas together and Waitrose has adopted a refreshingly light-hearted campaign that celebrates the fact. The work is upbeat and fun and Ashley Jensen’s performance is great in positioning the brand as complicit with the food lovers and caterers of Christmas. It will be interesting to see if this new role and tone is an approach Waitrose sticks to once Christmas is over. 3/5
Nicola: This is a bit odd. It feels more M&S than Waitrose. While it’s well made, the comedy falls a little flat. I get we’re selling extra special Christmas food here, but the message is more one of selfishness than joy. I think it’s a bit tone deaf to how our nation really feels about Christmas. 2/5
Rob: Waitrose throws off any pretence at Christmas spirit with an unashamed appeal to gluttony. It gets the ‘our food tastes better’ message across but the effect is let down by a peculiarly limp voiceover. And with repeat watching it all gets a bit sinister. This woman’s food obsession is not normal and she is not a nice person.3/5